Lummi Island is a quirky and approachable artist colony nestled in the emerald velvet of the Pacific Northwest. It’s home to one of the best restaurants in the country, the Willows Inn, and a smattering of artists, writers, farmers, fishermen and genuinely lovely people who’ve seemed to tap into a true sense of community and a closer connection to the land.
This is a place to unplug, to decompress, to reflect, to hear yourself think, to just be. If what you crave is to center yourself and quiet your mind, there are very few distractions. It’s far from roughing it, but the island has a rustic charm with luxury-leaning (albeit limited) offerings like art galleries, elevated dining options and a wine gallery featuring artisanal tastings. It’s also a great place for outdoor adventures like hiking, kayaking and other water sports.
How to get to Lummi Island
Where is Lummi Island, you ask? In the glorious Pacific Northwest, surrounded by the slate blue waters of the Salish Sea, just off the coast of Bellingham in Washington state. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Bellingham either, it’s just under 100 miles north of Seattle and has its own sleepy international airport an hour from the island. That’s the best place to fly into to bypass the Seattle gridlock traffic that may or may not delay your departure on the Whatcom ferry going over to Lummi Island. From the Bellingham International Airport, you’ll head about 10 minutes up the I-5 to Ferndale to stop for supplies at a wonderful grocer called Haggen, they’re exclusive to Washington and offer a robust selection of produce, specialty items and other supplies you won’t likely get on the island, especially if you go in the off-season. We had a field day with all the fresh produce and seafood they offered.
The Whatcom Chief, the Lummi Island Ferry
You’ll then drive through the Lummi Reservation, home to the third largest Native American tribe in Washington, and the original inhabitants of the region. The Whatcom ferry goes back and forth between Lummi Island and Gooseberry Point on the reservation about every 20 minutes from just before 6 a.m. to midnight. It’ll cost you about $20 for a roundtrip ticket for two plus your car (more if you have a larger truck or SUV and additional people), and the ride is (unfortunately) a short one at about 10 minutes. You can buy the ticket at the terminal or on the ferry itself with cash or a credit/debit card.
Why you should visit Lummi Island, Washington
Lummi Island has most of the conveniences of being near the mainland, unlike some of the San Juan Islands to the south, yet still feels like it’s miles away from the hustle and bustle. It’s also got strong cell phone and WiFi signals, which are a luxury once you get to the more remote islands in the Pacific Northwest. In the fall months, there’s a crisp breeze and the trees are ablaze in all their glory. Amber, sienna, butternut squash, hunter green, burgundy and green apple-colored leaves hang from the trees, prepping for their final descent. The area is also teeming with wildlife that swims over from the mainland. You read that correctly, it’s such a short trip across the bay, wildlife swims back and forth. The deer are so abundant on the island, they feel as permanent as the towering trees.
Where to stay on Lummi Island
Because the island is tiny, about 9-square-miles, the lodging options are only slightly more limited but still well-appointed. Of course, the famed Willows Inn has several good options, both on and off-property, but they book up quickly. In addition to the eight rooms offered at the inn itself, there are waterfront guest houses about a half mile away from the main location that afford more privacy, space and access to a private beach. Something that is highly coveted on the island as there are fewer public beaches than one might expect. You can also book spa treatments like seaweed facials or various massages, and they’ve got a hot tub.
There are also several private rentals on the island, both waterfront and more central on the island. The cottage at Full Bloom Farm, a stunning piece of property specializing in organic produce and a vibrant array of peonies and mischievous chickens, has an adjacent produce stand. With heated flooring, cathedral ceilings with two-story windows, a Viking range and wide deck with a hammock and grill, it feels like staying in an upscale treehouse. It’s so peaceful and quiet, the only other visitors you’ll see are the swooping birds and woodpeckers who visit the swaying bird feeder and the strolling deer who graze in the grass each day.
Where to eat on Lummi Island
Hmm, let’s see, how about the back-to-back James Beard Award-winning and internationally acclaimed Chef Blaine Wetzel’s restaurant on the island? The Willows Inn is a culinary destination in itself, drawing food lovers from all over the world for an authentic and artful taste of the Pacific Northwest that has been fished, farmed or foraged nearby. Farm-to-table is a celebrated way of life here and you can see that in the restaurant’s own Loganita Farms, their culinary gardens. In both 2020 and 2019, the Willows Inn was named the best restaurant in North America by OAD (Opinionated About Dining). They close for the winter season, but offer breakfast, lunch and an exquisite tasting menu at dinner from April to December.
See what happened when we had dinner at The Willows Inn.
The only other restaurant on the island is the Beach Store Café, and despite its humble bungalow exterior, serves surprisingly elevated fare as well. You’ll find truffle oil, chipotle and curry aiolis, grass-fed beef and organic produce like oyster mushrooms, blood orange-citrus vinaigrettes, wilted curly endive and…you get the picture. They’ve also got a good selection of vegan and gluten-free options. On the weekends, they serve brunch and have several playful cocktails on the menu. There’s a large front porch overlooking the waterfront as well as back patio seating when the weather’s just right.
Because the island is small, you’re going to likely be cooking if you stay longer than the weekend. Hence the “stop at Haggen in Ferndale” recommendation above. The general store, called the Islander, is a quirky place for snacks, supplies, beer, movie rentals (yes, you read that correctly), souvenirs from local artisans and an impressive supply of wild mushrooms which are coincidently next to the Slim Jims.
What to do on Lummi Island
The best things to do on Lummi Island revolve around Mother Nature. The Pacific Northwest is renowned for its pristine landscapes and even when the weather is gloomy, the beauty is still piercing. And that makes it a perfect haven for people who want to experience the wonders of the countless bays, forests, mountains, rivers, lakes and wildlife. The region is home to orca pods and wild salmon so whale watching is a popular pastime from the spring to fall. Kayaking, fishing, crabbing, boating, paddle boarding and other water sports are always a good choice.
Even as tiny as Lummi Island is, they still have some good hiking with three different nature preserves to choose from. Baker Preserve is the toughest, an ascent that will have you either flexing your cardiovascular prowess or sucking major wind. No matter which category you fall into, it’s worth the trek for the sweeping views. The Curry and Otto Preserves are much easier, with winding trails through lush forests and fields. Lummi Island can also serve as a good home base for day trips to the nearby southwestern Canadian border. The city of Vancouver in British Columbia, Victoria and other sites on Vancouver Island are a quick two-hour car ride away and a good idea if you plan to spend an extended amount of time on the island. And of course, you can go island hopping through the San Juan Islands from here as well.
Here’s a more in depth look on things to do on Lummi Island.
more activities on lummi island
Ashley Oñoz-Wright has been a travel writer and editor based in Las Vegas, NV for the last ten years. Her work has been featured in Manifesting Travel, Modern Luxury, Sophisticated Living, Greenspun Media Group, Vegas.com and LasVegas.com. She holds a degree in Sociology & Anthropology from DePauw University.